Baltimore Ravens

Recap: Ravens turn frustrating start into 25-20 win at Cleveland

CLEVELAND — There were helmet tosses by the always-fiery Steve Smith Sr. and the normally-reserved C.J. Mosley. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees called his players together for a calm but pointed sideline lecture. Quarterback Joe Flacco gave his typical response to in-game adversity: a shrug of his shoulders. He did admit to pondering the number of Ravens' fans who were cursing him back home.

For the first 11 minutes against a young and supposedly overmatched opponent, the Ravens were getting embarrassed. Flacco looked rattled and the running game was nonexistent. The secondary was being shredded again by journeyman quarterback Josh McCown, and the defense had allowed the longest run in franchise history.


"There were a lot of bleeps, I guess. A lot of adjectives being used," Smith said of the mood on the Ravens' sideline.

The Ravens players and coaches didn't come close to reaching a consensus on whether it was something that was said or an adjustment that was made that keyed their 25-20 comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns in front of an announced crowd of 67,431 Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The victory improved the Ravens to 2-0 for the first time since 2009.


The Ravens rattled off the game's final 25 points and then barely hung on when middle linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted Josh McCown just outside the end zone with 13 seconds remaining. McCown was forced to take a chance after wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was called for a questionable taunting call on the previous play, taking the ball from the Ravens' 10-yard line all the way back to the 30.

The Ravens' comeback from 20 points down in the first quarter was the second biggest in franchise history, trailing only a victory over the Arizona Cardinals in 2011, when the Ravens erased a 21-point deficit.

"I just told these guys, 'I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys.'" Flacco said. "...It wasn't pretty. We weren't perfect. We weren't great. Do you want to play a game like that in September? Not necessarily. But every single game in January and come February, where we hope to be, is going to be like that. It's going to be tough situations. That's why over the years, these games have taken us to that next level and has made us so mentally tough. When we get in those games, we don't blink."

Flacco certainly did his part, hitting Mike Wallace for two touchdown passes in helping the Ravens dig out its hole. Kicker Justin Tucker did his as well, giving the Ravens their first lead with a 49-yard field goal with 11:19 to play, and tacking on three more points with a 41-yard make with just under three minutes remaining.

Beyond that, several Ravens believe the seed of the comeback was planted when Lawrence Guy blocked Patrick Murray's extra-point attempt after Corey Coleman's second touchdown catch of the first quarter had given the Browns a 20-0 lead. Rookie Tavon Young scooped up the kick and returned it 63 yards for a successful two-point conversion.

"You know what's crazy? When he blocked that field goal and Tavon scooped and scored, that just gave me fire," said Wallace who had four catches for 41 yards and the two touchdowns. He now has the Ravens' only three touchdowns on the season, and one more score than he did all of last year with the Minnesota Vikings. "It was like, 'Man, we got these guys.' We just needed one thing, one moment to get rolling, and that was it."

Other players believe a more aggressive mentality on both offense and defense was the impetus. Defensively, the Ravens came after McCown and hurt the quarterback's left shoulder. On a day when the team wanted to honor former defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, who died Saturday after battling esophageal and stomach cancer, the Ravens gave up two first-quarter touchdown passes and an 85-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Crowell. All that happened in a five-minute, 11-second span of the first quarter.

But the Ravens, who gave up more yards and points in the first quarter against the Browns than they did in the entire regular-season opener to the Buffalo Bills, responded by holding Cleveland scoreless for the final 49 minutes of the game. Mosley got the game-sealing interception and safety Eric Weddle also picked off McCown, leading to a late Tucker first-half field goal.


"We put the team in that situation. In a million years, we never thought we'd start a game like that, especially with that big run," said Mosley, who also talked about the importance of honoring the beloved Brooks. "We definitely wanted to win this game for him. I know he's resting in peace, but I'm pretty sure he was [cursing] us, too."

The Ravens' first four drives ended with a punt, a Flacco interception, a turnover on downs and another punt. But Flacco talked with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman about improving the tempo and taking more chances down the field.

The Ravens scored on their next three possessions, sandwiching halftime. Tight end Dennis Pitta was a huge factor as he had nine catches for 102 yards on the same field where his career nearly ended two years ago.

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Some Ravens said their experience in games like this allowed them to overcome their own mistakes and make key plays late. The Ravens lost nine games last year by eight points or fewer. They've now won their first two games in 2016 by a total of 11 points.

"Last year, we weren't getting these, and this year, we are," said Smith who had three catches for 64 yards. "Joe said it well: In December, there's going to be some games like this, so we're getting conditioned now. Realistically, that's not the way you want to play every week. You don't want to play on the seat of your pants every week. That's not good for your heart."

The Ravens have started 2-0 five times in franchise history, and they've made it to the postseason in the previous four. This team has plenty to figure out. The offense is having a hard time getting in a rhythm and the running game remains a struggle. On defense, the lapses early were curious given how much focus they put on winning on third down and getting to McCown.


But when it was over, the Ravens celebrated an ability to play through the type of mistakes and issues that doomed them last season.

"I couldn't be more proud of these players and coaches," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The playcallers were exceptionally good. Both of them stuck to the game plan and didn't overreact. That takes a lot when you have that kind of first quarter."